ROUND ROCK, Texas — This year’s Super Bowl is one Sunday Dionne Grantham will not soon forget.
“We get a knock at our door, and it’s our neighbor telling us the building’s on fire and to get out,” Grantham said.
That knock was from her neighbor, Evan Veno.
“When we went outside, it was still billowing smoke out of the back end,” Veno said.
It was a fire visible from the street, which destroyed part of their apartment complex.
Grantham and Veno live at The Landing at Round Rock, which is managed by the company Roscoe Property Management.
Twenty-two people had to leave their homes for their own safety. Before they could return, they said management locked them out of their apartments, then gave them three days to access their homes and move out – but only during business hours.
“We had to choose and pick what we deemed more important because there were still a lot of stuff left there, but we had to get it out by 5:30,” Grantham said.
“So you didn’t have enough time to even get all the things you wanted,” Defenders investigative reporter Brad Streicher asked.
“No,” Grantham said.
A representative from Roscoe Properties, Angelique Goodnough, told the KVUE Defenders firefighters and Roscoe’s insurance company didn’t want anyone going back inside at all.
But the fire marshal told KVUE his department gave the all-clear.
“Do you think three days is enough time for people to move all of their things out of an apartment,” Streicher asked.
“It really doesn’t matter what I think. It was the best we could do under the circumstances,” Goodnough said.
Grantham said she negotiated to get out of extra fees. But she complained property managers said she had to sign a liability waiver, stating she would not sue Roscoe Properties in the future.
“And at this point, we don’t know why the fire started,” Grantham said. “I’m not comfortable signing this. She said, ‘Well if you don’t sign it, you’re not going to get your stuff.’”
Goodnough admitted they made residents sign that form to get their belongings at the request of Roscoe Property Management’s insurance company.
“This is just wrong,” Brown Law Firm Attorney Kyle Dingman said. “They shouldn’t be doing this.”
Dingman is a local Austin attorney who specializes in tenant rights. The KVUE Defenders showed him the waiver Goodnough was asked to sign.
“There’s only very limited circumstances when a landlord is allowed to keep a tenant from being allowed to enter the property,” Dingman said.
“And this isn’t one of them,” Streicher asked.
“This isn’t one of them,” Dingman said. “This is just completely illegal. There’s not a defense for it.”
On top of that, Veno said he’s now paying more money for a smaller apartment.
“$41 more a month, it’s quite a bit smaller space, and then I had to put down $175 security deposit before they would give me the keys to move in here,” Veno said.
When the Defenders brought that to Roscoe Property Management, Goodnough told us that’s a mistake. Goodnough said management told staff at The Landing to offer different units to displaced residents, with no rent increase and no security deposit.
“If in this process someone was charged a deposit that shouldn’t have been, that’s a problem we should fix,” Goodnough said.
“Is it something you guys would be willing to correct,” Streicher asked.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” Goodnough said. “And if they feel they were told something in error, we’ll work it out with them.”
The Defenders also confirmed with Mark Selby, the Sam Bass fire marshal, that the building where the fire started didn’t have a sprinkler system.
Selby, who oversees fire safety inspections for The Landing, said that’s legal because the fire code did not require sprinklers at the time these buildings in the complex were built, which was about 20 years ago.
That means there could potentially be several other buildings without sprinkler systems to fight fires, which the fire marshal said could be concerning.
“We would love them to have it now knowing how much they can save lives and property for that,” Selby said.
Adding a sprinkler system to a building can be an expensive choice, but Veno thinks not making that choice could be the reason he and his neighbors are in this situation now.
“If there had been sprinklers, maybe that fire would have been stopped before, you know, damaging much, much further,” Veno said.
While they wait for the complex to be fixed, Goodnough wants residents who think they’ve been treated badly to let her know, so Roscoe Property Management can make the situation right.
“The residents are our primary concern,” Goodnough said. “We’ve tried our best to help them. If we’ve failed, let us know and we’ll fix it.”
There is still no word on what caused the fire, and Goodnough said it’s too early to know how much rebuilding will be necessary.
Goodnough also does not know whether sprinkler systems will be installed in those older buildings at the Landing.
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